The Story Behind the Winter Tree Photograph
Those that know me, know my three passions in life, Walking, Photography and my beautiful family. The story behind this photograph (The Winter Tree Photograph) is one of passion and pain in equal amounts. A week after what was supposed to be a simple walk along part of the Wayfarers Walkway this picture was one of a few results. My primary goal was a relatively simple one, to photograph the sunrise looking back toward Basingstoke from a vantage point somewhere along the Wayfarers Walkway. I love to walk.
A Simple Walk
It’s early January and I’m keen to start learning all about my new toy, a Canon 5DSR that I had had recently invested in. The weather over Christmas 2017 and into the New Year hadn’t been much to shout about, although I had been out on a few successful Canal Walks, making the most of a little winter sunshine. One of my plans for 2018 is to walk the Wayfarers walkway in its sections (not from start to end in one go; perhaps one day!), and so I set to and planned my journey. I planned to deviate from the common sections listed in most guide books and navigate my journey according to local geography and my convenience. A small section, starting in Basingstoke, North Hampshire and ending at the small village of Hannington before a short walk home to Baughurst across the local fields. A simple 10 – 12 miles; or so I had thought!
About the Wayfarers Walk
Wayfarers Walk is a 71 mile long trail in Hampshire, running from Inkpen Beacon in the north of the county to the sea at Emsworth, in the south. On the way it passes through a series of pleasant towns and picturesque villages, and the scenery if not grand is certainly attractive. It is a varied walk; the start is high with imposing views north from the escarpment of Walbury Hill whilst the end is a pleasant stroll along the coast past the northern end of Hayling Island.
Lessons About Planning
I’m old school. Give me a map, a compass and a piece of string. I’d planned my route meticulously the previous day, only my OS (Ordinance Survey) map didn’t cover part of the route. Thank heavens for Google! I printed out the section I required, used my piece of string to measure distance and ‘hey presto’, 12 miles. Now the more observant among you may well ask, did you check the scale on the OS map and the ‘printed’ google version? …and, well, “No”.
The Walk in Three Halves
I awoke nice and early, boiled the kettle for the flask of hot coffee (honest, just coffee), made a sandwich, made sure I had enough sugary snacks, all loaded into the day pack. Next, my camera gear, Body, Lens, Grad Filter/holder and my tripod. I don’t usually curse much but, when packing my tripod, it broke!!!
The First Half
It was 6am, -1C and I was dropped off at the Costa Coffee drive-through in Basingstoke. I began my walk under the fluorescent lights of the town and headed of toward Kempshot. The first part of my walk was well lit until I’d leave the warmth of the street lamps. I turned to follow the railway line, walking down a good footpath toward the small village of Oakley.
I kept looking back in the general direction of where the sun would rise above Basingstoke. Without a tripod I was doomed not to achieve anything special. It was still dark and it was a little eerie being all alone. The early morning ‘Blue Hour’ had not yet started. That didn’t stop me from playing with my new camera, finding my way around all its features in the dark is a great way to learn. The image to the left was taken by resting the camera on my knee and hoping I could stop breathing for 10 seconds, high ISO etc. The result was expectably camera shake.
The image to the right is an old railway bridge just short of Oakley. It’s a place that’s definitely on my list to return to so that I can photograph it at a more realistic time of day. By the time the Blue Hour started at about 7am I was just passing Oakley and veering of toward the point on my map that would signify my start point and join up with the Wayfarers walkway, just off the edge of my OS map. Here started the second half of my planned journey.
It was also at this point I began to truly realise my predicament of no tripod. I kept looking back and wondering how I would achieve a long exposure without a tripod. I needed coffee, so I sat my camera down opportunistically onto a piece of ice and used the timer to take my first picture of the Blue Hour while I sipped at a lovely warm coffee. Thats when I noticed, Clouds! A small amount of cloud I could cope with but, in the distance was a dark menacing cloud base moving my way.
The Second Half
I wondered onwards and finally joined the Wayfarers footpath, but by that time the cloud base (despite what the weather app on my iPhone said) had settled to obscure any chances of a sunrise photograph. With disappointment I settled for a long walk back toward Hannington, camera in hand ready to seize any photo opportunities should any arise. The second half of my journey was reasonably uneventful, the odd ‘Good-Morning’ to a passing dog walker and breakfast. The Winter Tree, I’m getting to that, honest.
After a brief stop for breakfast, a cereal bar and another warm cup of coffee, I set off along the path to Hannington. By now I had realised my planning mistake; but i’d already given in to the fact that it was going to take a few hours longer than originally planned. The path began to get wetter and generally harder going, and the wooded areas had given way to more open fields and hedgerow. Despite this I love North Hampshire; the beautiful landscape and wildlife in this special county is quite unique.
Although this time of year wildlife is scarce, I’d seen the odd deer, bird and rabbit. The landscape in winter is perhaps best described by more talented writers, however, for me there’s something about the Hampshire Countryside that is primeval and unspoiled. I always find that winter exaggerates this fact, especially if there is a frost or covering of snow. It neutralises the existence of our presence and reveals other unique features normally hidden. You see animal tracks you might not notice. It makes me feel like a bit of an explorer.
The higher up I was walking through the open countryside, the breeze became biting cold turning my fingertips blue. I started to think in photographic terms for the opportunities to capture something. The cloud base was against me, so the colour of light falling on the landscape was bland. I noticed the fields I was crossing were predominately bordered by hedgerow with the odd tree dispersed here and there. That was going to be my focus, but how to best photograph a tree? The image to the left gave me hope, I started to consider that the tress were not just dead as they appear, but instead dormant.
The Dormant nature of the trees gave rise to some wonderful shapes and shadows. And so I began a series of photographic attempts to capture this physical suspension in time. The tree you see at the top of this page, I decided to name ‘Winter Tree’. So often I find when trees are described, words such as green, leafy or dead are not enough for me. It was simpler, and I think more expressive to name it ‘Dormant Tree’. This tree, my tree, was playing its rightful part in nature, suspended through the winter until spring comes around again. Winter Tree.
The Third Half
After midday, the Sun shone through, the breeze dropped and Hannington village was just around the corner. My legs were now aching and my shoulders tired. It had been a good walk with plenty of time to reflect and to test my new camera. Of course, I wouldn’t know for sure if I had a good enough photograph until I could import them into Lightroom and see them displayed on my computer screen. Post processing would be the final truth.
I had my lunch at Hannington, sat on the public bench on the village green. “Did I take enough images?” I asked myself as I ate my sandwich. “What could I do with a photograph of a Tree? Just a simple Tree.”, but the food and coffee was good, so good. Then began the final part of the walk; my walk home.
The Image is currently only available for download. Plans are in place to have this photograph professionally framed and for sale soon.
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Author: Stephen Paul Young